Election '97: Major flies in face of opposition

Election tour '97: Party chiefs put thousands of miles under their belts as campaign finally draws to a close

All that was missing were the baseball caps, T-shirts and the bomber jackets for the roadies.

John Major's unprecedented campaign tour to the four corners of the United Kingdom was intended as a dramatic gesture of his support for the Union before polling day.

But the trip from Downing Street to Belfast, Edinburgh, and the Menai Bridge in North Wales maybe seen as the Major '97 Farewell Tour.

The leader of the Tory band thanked each of four of the motorcycle policemen who had escorted his motorcade from central London, for the last time in the campaign, to RAF Northolt and with his wife, Norma, posed with them for a group photograph.

Shirley Stotter, his campaign manager, took snaps for the Major family album to study later if John and Norma have more time to put their feet up after Thursday.

There were shots of Mr Major surrounded by 20 RUC officers for a walkabout in Donegall Place in the centre of Belfast; the fighting speech from the platform of the battle-bus at The Mound in the heart of Edinburgh; and posing in a layby overlooking the Menai Bridge with Norma, a bored field of sheep, and William Hague, the young Welsh Secretary who could take the leadership one day.

Covering 1,010 miles in a day, Mr Major showed he would not give up without a fight. The air crew decorated the VIP cabin with blue balloons, streamers and a "Good Luck" message. As it taxied to a halt they played the record he had requested on a phone-in show in the West Country at the start of the campaign: Tina Turner's 'Simply the Best'.

The trip to Ulster could have been a final, two-fingered gesture to the IRA. It was the first time that a Prime Minister had visited Ulster in the midst of a General Election. But Brian Mawhinney, the party Chairman, and an Ulsterman, who accompanied Mr Major, said it was intended as a dramatic gesture to symbolise Mr Major's support for the Union.

Some of the eight Tory candidates who are fighting seats in Northern Ireland against he other parties, including the Unionists, had been invited to be there, outside Marks & Spencer's for the leader's arrival. They included Sarah Dines, 31, a London barrister campaigning on the slogan, "East Belfast is as British as Basildon" - the Essex seat that proved the turning point in the 1992 'comeback' Election.

It was just like going to the High Street shops in the Essex new town, except for the security. At the Disney Store, one of the shop assistants said: "We only knew something was happening when we saw those two." She pointed to two police officers with a sniper rifle on the roof of Richard Shops.

After popping into Tesco, Mr Major said in one of the dozen of "doorsteps" he has given to the Press that a vote for Sinn Fein would be "a vote that endorses the terrorism, the murder, the violence and mayhem we have seen in Northern Ireland." It may not stop Gerry Adams being elected on Thursday.

A woman doing her shopping wondered what all the fuss was about. "Was it Gerry Adams?" she asked.

In Edinburgh Mr Major was joined by three leading Tories, including Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, and Michael Forsyth, the Scottish Secretary. They stood on the tiny battle-bus platform and a heckler shouted: "You've got a quarter of your Scottish party with you."

Mr Major told the voters: "Before you come to Thursday, stop and think and pause. Realise what is at stake. This may be a vote you cast that will change the history and the future of Scotland and the rest of the UK."

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